Aiming for a Top 100 college? It's not at all necessary to thrive, poll finds.

Furthering the debate over the state of US higher education, a Gallup survey of college graduates found that it's what you do at school, not where you go, that matters for your future well-being.

By , Staff writer

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    A recent Gallup survey of college graduates found that what you do at school matters more for your future well-being than whether or not you attend a top college like Amherst College, seen here in 2008 shortly after it instituted a no loan policy, supplying grants instead.
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When it comes to having a thriving life and a job you like, it helps to go to college, but a new poll finds that the benefits don’t hinge on getting into a certain type of school.

In fact, the survey conducted by Gallup and released Tuesday finds little difference in reported well-being between college graduates overall and those who graduated from colleges in the top 100 in the widely publicized U.S. News & World Report rankings.

And although college generally puts people on a track toward a better life, the poll points to lots of room for outcomes to improve.

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Only 39 percent of college graduates describe themselves as engaged at work, according to the survey, co-sponsored by Purdue University in Indiana and the private, Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation.

The Gallup-Purdue poll is the latest evidence in an ongoing debate about the state of US higher education, and the value that colleges are delivering for their ever-growing price tags.

On Tuesday, a group of congressional Democrats fired their own salvo on the issue of college costs by introducing legislation to allow Americans to refinance student loans at the same low interest rates now offered to current college students.

William Bennett, who served as secretary of Education under President Reagan, has also focused attention on the issue with a book last year titled, “Is College Worth It?”

Also last year, President Obama launched a College Affordability and Transparency Center within the Department of Education, to give Americans a window on costs and graduation rates around the country. Similarly, the website Payscale.com offers calculators of the “return on investment” for different colleges and majors.

The Gallup-Purdue survey suggests that how people go to college may be more important than where they go.

“Where graduates went to college — public or private, small or large, very selective or not selective — hardly matters at all to their current well-being and their work lives in comparison to their experiences in college,” the Gallup-Purdue report concludes.

Regardless of the college they attend, if students experience an internship or have a professor who cares about them, they’re much more likely to do well after they graduate.

Don't expect Stanford or Harvard to lose their cachet as elite schools. But the poll offers some support for the notion that what you get from college depends on much more than rankings.

Key findings of the poll regarding some 30,000 college graduates who participated include:

• Most are generally satisfied with their lives, although only 11 percent are “thriving” on all five types of well-being that the poll asked about (social, physical, financial, community, and purpose).

• About 17 percent are not thriving in any area of well-being. (For the US population overall that figure is 29 percent, according to a separate Gallup survey in 2013).

• The share of graduates counted as thriving is similar for “top 100” schools in the U.S. News & World Report ranking and all other colleges or universities. Well-being scores were lower, however, for graduates of for-profit colleges, compared with public or private non-profit colleges.

• What you major in can make a difference. Science and business majors are more likely to be employed than majors in social sciences, arts, and humanities, but are slightly less likely to feel engaged with their work.

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